Space

Launches: NASA solicits plans to deorbit ISS

Launches: A man wearing a white astronaut suit with red stripes waves to the camera. A blue Earth and the blackness of space behind him set the backdrop.
Launches blog for August 22: On August 19, NASA issued a request for information regarding the feasibility of safely deorbiting the ISS at the end of its mission in 2030. Here, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy waves to the camera during a spacewalk from ISS in 2013. Image via NASA.

EarthSky’s Launches blog brings you the best in spaceflight updates. See more from Launches here.

Previously on Launches: Russians unveil space station model

Launches for August 22: NASA solicits plans to deorbit ISS

On Friday (August 19, 2022), NASA quietly asked companies that think they have the right stuff their thoughts on deorbiting the International Space Station at the end of its mission. The mission end for the station is currently planned for 2030. The document, posted on the US government contractors website sam.gov, isn’t a request for proposals. Instead, it’s a request for information and a solicitation for:

… responses from interested parties to gauge industry’s capabilities to provide deorbit capabilities for the International Space Station (ISS).

So NASA appears to be testing the waters and stimulating competition among the firms with the proper can-do attitude.

There’s nothing wrong with ISS. But a 2017 federal law requires NASA to evaluate both the feasibility of keeping the station flying beyond its current mission parameters, as well as analyzing if safely deorbiting the ISS is even possible, and if so, how much it will cost, and so:

Per ISS International Partner agreement and request, NASA is issuing this Request for Information (RFI) to assess industry’s capability to design, develop, manufacture, launch, and provide the on-orbit operation to enable a controlled re-entry and the safe deorbit (of) the ISS.

Atmospheric drag plus a propulsion assist

Plans for bringing down the ISS can either rely on natural atmospheric drag or propel it into a fatal orbit using some means of propulsion. Once the station drops below 270 km (168 miles), a combination of drag – possibly propulsion-assisted – will put the ISS in an orbit just 150 km (93 miles) high at perigee.

A final burn will follow, and the deorbit vehicle’s computers will guide the station to its doom “within a predefined, uninhabited corridor” to be chosen at a later date. The solution must be in place at least one year before the system is needed for safety reasons, NASA said:

Although nominal ISS EOL (end of life) is late 2030, the Government requires that this deorbit capability be available as soon as possible to protect for contingencies that could drive early re-entry and beyond 2030 in the event of further ISS mission extensions.

The more technical details of the deorbit mission requirements are available in the text of the official request for information.

Bottom line: NASA has quietly asked companies that think they have the right stuff their thoughts on deorbiting the International Space Station. The mission end for the station is currently planned for 2030. In the past week, on Launches:
Russians unveil space station model
U.S. Space Force takes command
Surprise rollout for Artemis 1

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